The Research Imperative: History

When the Medical Library Association (MLA) issued Using Scientific Evidence to Improve Information Practice in 1995 as a call to action for health sciences librarians to become “creators, managers, and active users of” scientific evidence, the policy statement (one of the first of its kind for a library association) envisioned research as a “foundation for excellence in the profession, for new and expanding roles for health sciences librarians, and for attracting top people to the field” [1].

Their vision and call to action were prescient. In the past ten years, hospital and academic health sciences librarians have come to understand and embrace their role in evidence-based medicine (EBM). Today, health sciences librarians with a solid understanding of the biomedical research literature routinely read and critically appraise the journal literature for their users. Some librarians have been involved in large research grants where they can apply “information technology, theory, and practice to …safeguarding patient-specific data, linking patient data to scientific knowledge; and aggregating and analyzing patient data within and across institutions” [1]. To a great extent Using Scientific Evidence to Improve Information Practice remains a viable and compelling statement of the importance of research to health information practice.

Why Revise?

Using Scientific Evidence to Improve Information Practice provided the construct under which MLA encouraged and enabled many health sciences librarians to engage in research initiatives that contribute to excellence in health information practice (Appendix 1). With the Research Imperative, the present MLA Task Force on Research Policy Statement Revision reaffirms this earlier vision while focusing it on the creation of a culture where “analysis and application of a health information research knowledgebase” [1] is commonplace—where health information practitioners/librarians, just like the health care practitioners they serve, use the best available evidence when making a decision. Recognizing that the conditions are not yet fully in place for this to happen, this statement presents the challenges and outlines MLA’s roles and responsibilities independent of and in conjunction with key stakeholders to develop a culture where applying and creating research-based evidence are the norm rather than the exception among health information professionals. This is the association’s research imperative.

How to Revise?

Faced with the challenge of revisiting the original statement, the MLA Task Force on Research Policy Statement Revision decided early on it needed evidence on which to base its actions. Should the policy be merely updated or re-conceived and rewritten? In addition to an extensive literature review (Appendix 2) and the Open Forums held at MLA ’05 and MLA ’06, fifty-one key informant interviews were conducted by task force members late in 2005 (Appendix 3). Key informants included library educators, academic medical library directors, hospital librarians, Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (BMLA)/Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) editors, medical informatics researchers, and international members of the evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) community. Six themes emerged from these interviews.

  • Creation of a Culture of Research: The continued growth and development of the profession and individual professionals requires the creation and use of a research knowledgebase.
  • The Challenge: The conditions (e.g., resources, training, funding) do not currently exist in sufficient quantities to support the research imperative.
  • Domains of Research: Critical research questions are all around us and need to be identified and pursued, and the results shared broadly.
  • Research Skills Set: Whether published research is used to provide information service to end users or to improve their own practice of librarianship, all health information practitioners need the ability to analyze and appraise the research literature.
  • Roles of Stakeholders: Responsibility for the research imperative is shared across the community of practice and includes individual health information professionals, MLA, graduate schools of library and information science, employers, funding agencies, and partners.
  • Measuring Progress: As part of its strategic planning process, MLA should annually identify ways it can advance the research imperative and give an accounting of progress in this area.

These themes serve as the foundation on which the task force based this revision. While affirming the continuing value and relevance of Using Scientific Evidence to Improve Information Practice, the Research Imperative chooses to concentrate on the importance of all health information professionals incorporating evidence into their information practice. It asserts that in today’s complex information landscape research is a survival skill; that working collaboratively yields more meaningful results; that the results of smaller local findings are valuable when broadly shared; that while not all research needs to be grant funded, more support needs provided for applied research in information practice; and finally that conducting research is personally and professionally rewarding.


1. Dalrymple PW, Bastille JD, Bradley J, Dee CR, Humphreys BL, Marshall JG, Weller AC, Webb RE. Using scientific evidence to improve information practice. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association, 1995.